Father rises early, throws a large log on the fire, dresses warmly, grabs his axe and heads into the woods. He’ll soon return with bundles of greenery to place on and around the house.
Humming cheerfully, Mother prepares the ham, lights the red candles at the center of the table, and fills wine glasses for the adults who will soon arrive. Everyone eagerly awaits the gift exchange amid brightly colored candles and figurines.
The decorated living room will shortly be filled with singing as the children, off from school, join the festival games while eating their fill of fruits and nuts. “Merry Mithra” they call out. “May Mithra bless us, every one.”
This is the Roman Saturnalia, a.k.a. Feast of Mithra. It’s December 25 – some 50 years before the Savior is born at Bethlehem. It could just as easily be 2,000 years before that, as these same rites are rooted in the customs of the ancient Babylonians and their worship of their sun god.
The focus of this holiday is a Roman god known as the Sun of Righteousness. This is his birthday celebration of the Saturnalia, the Feast to the Roman deity Saturn.
But for the Name, the Rest Is the Same
If you were to place this celebration up against today’s December 25th festivities you would be hard pressed to discern any major differences. Except there would be tons more presents to exchange and homes would be more garish today. Other than that, the masses would be just as comfortable with the rites of Mithra as with St. Nick.
Even those who want to “put Chr-st back into Christmas” will sense a communion with the ancient sun god of the Romans. Mithraism promised immortality to its faithful. The pagan Roman faith included such rites as fasting at certain times, baptism, marriage, the last rites, and liturgy with candles, incense, and holy water.
More striking than this, perhaps, are the personal similarities of Mithra and Messiah: Mithra “was the creator and orderer of the universe … he incarnated on earth … his birth on 25 December was witnessed by shepherds. After many deeds he held a last supper with his disciples and returned to heaven … after the last battle, victorious over evil, he will lead the chosen ones through a river of fire to a blessed immortality” (Mystery Religions in the Ancient World, p. 99).
All of this begs the question: who is being honored on December 25th? The Savior, or the Roman sun god? Don’t feel alone if you are mystified by it all. Many ancients were also confused. Pope Leo I (440-461) chastised Christians, who on Christmas celebrated the birth of the sun god. And the syncretism never stopped.
From the start, the Christmas observance was mired in a pagan and pseudo-Biblical combination that still scourges it today. Why the discordant mixture of the nativity with evergreen trees, St. Nick, Wassail bowls, wreathes, mistletoe, and Alvin the chipmunk? Is this how the Savior should be honored? Who authorized such a thing?
Search the Scriptures and you will not find one instance where Yahweh commanded or even requested such a rite. For that matter, He never even authorized a birthday celebration for His Son. Surprisingly, there was no birthday observance for the Savior until 300 years AFTER His birth. Being that no one knew when He was born, the Christmas observance was timed to coincide with a midwinter pagan festival already in progress for thousands of years. It honored the imperial gods Mithra and Saturn.
By a process of amalgamation, the winter solstice celebration became permanently linked with the birth of the Savior. Here is how one of many references describes it:
“In the 5th century the Western church ordered the feast [of the Savior’s birth] to be celebrated on the day of the Mithraic rites of the birth of the sun and at the close of the Saturnalia, as no certain knowledge of the day of [Messiah’s] birth existed. Among the German and Celtic tribes the winter solstice was considered an important point of the year and to commemorate the return of the sun they held their chief festival of yule, which, like other pagan celebrations, became adapted to Christmas” (Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 6, p. 622).
This source candidly admits that Christmas customs have no basis in the Bible. Notice:
“Most of the customs now associated with Christmas were not originally Christmas customs but rather were pre- Christian and non-Christian customs taken up by the Christian church. Saturnalia, a Roman feast celebrated in mid-December, provided the model for many of the merrymaking customs of Christmas. From this celebration, for example, were derived the elaborate feasting, the giving of gifts, and the burning of candles. Lights also played an important part in most winter solstice festivals” (ibid).
Does Yahweh honor such worship?
‘But He Understands… Doesn’t He?’
So what if we borrow customs pulled from heathenism? Shouldn’t Yahweh be pleased simply because we observe the birthday of His Son? Does it really make any difference HOW we do it?
Simply put, it certainly does. Every aspect of His worship must be honored according to His precise commands or it does not consititute His worship.
Yahweh says that any worship outside of His commands is expressly prohibited:
“Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them [pagan worshipers], after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you enquire not after their elohim, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their deities? even so will I do likewise.’ You shall not do so unto Yahweh your Elohim: for every abomination to Yahweh which He hates, have they done unto their elohim … Whatever thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto nor diminish from it,” Deuteronomy 12:30-32.
Mixing forms of worship was what got ancient Israel into so much hot water with Yahweh. He is pointedly particular about how we worship and glorify Him. Adding rites and rituals is adding unacceptable worship. Anything less or anything added to what is commanded in His Word – and we will reap our own judgment.
Consider the biggest rite of the holiday, adoration of the tree. The brightly lit tree is a solar religion survival, and its greenery a symbol of life and fertility worship.Jeremiah 10 condemns tree worship, a mainstay in the worship of pagan gods.
“Thus says Yahweh, ‘Learn not the way of the heathen … For the customs of the people are vain: for one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, and with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not…’’’ verses 2-4.
Yahweh is not pleased that most have not chosen to separate themselves from the ways and worship of the world. Paul urged the Corinthians, “Wherefore ‘come out from among them and be separate,’ says Yahweh, ‘and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,’ says Yahweh Almighty,”2Corinthians 6: 17-18.
Let’s Just Be Honest
The Corinthians shared the same misconception as many today: they thought they could worship Yahweh the same way they had always worshiped their other gods. Just retool and rebaptize the rites and rituals to a Biblical context and have the best of both.
Yahweh says if you do that, it won’t be Me but some other you’ll be worshiping. I’m not like the many false gods of heathenism. I demand special worship from those who are mine. Not only is your worship vain, but I will also punish those who will not listen to Me.
“And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).
Be honest with Yahweh. Pretending you are keeping the birthday of the Messiah by gathering around a pagan tree, coveting presents, eating ham, standing under mistletoe perhaps to steal an immoral kiss, and using Santa Claus as a surrogate savior who keeps track of who’s naughty and nice – and rewards accordingly – is tacitly wrong and does not honor or serve the One you may be trying to worship. To our Heavenly Father and His Son, any unauthorized worship is an abomination.
Keep in mind what Yahweh told Israel at the foot of Sinai about the deities of false worship:
“You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I Yahweh your Elohim am a jealous EI, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep My commandments,” Exodus 20:5-6.
His ways as revealed by His laws are not grievous (lJohn 5:3), but point to His exclusive and saving way of life. Come to know Him. Shun the empty ways of the world that ultimately lead to destruction, and find Him through real and complete obedience to His Word. Nothing less will do. Nothing more can please Him than to do just what His Word tells us to do.
Watch: “Christmas the Untold Story” from Discover the Truth TV below.